Did you know? More Fascinating Sayings with a Seagoing Origin

In the offing,

A person who was watching out for a ship to arrive home would first see it approaching when it was ‘in the offing’ that area of sea that can be seen from land, the ship was expected to tie up on the dockside before the next tide. Something that is ‘in the offing’ isn’t happening now or even in a minute or two but will inevitably happen soon. The phrase has a naval origin but is now used to describe any event that is imminent.

Hand over fist, quickly and frequently, from the action of seamen hauling on ropes to raise an anchor or sail into place. This expression is still used to mean doing something quickly and successfully.

A loose cannon,

When a heavy iron canon broke loose on a man o’ war it could wreak havoc maiming and killing seamen as it careered about. Loose canons in the present day are people who are capable of causing mayhem.

On your beam ends,

Beams are horizontal cross members in a ship c 18th century, there was risk of imminent capsize if the beam ends were touching the water – the ship could roll over.

To this day the phrase means someone who is in a parlous condition, hard up and destitute.

Slush fund,

Sailing ship galleys were primitive, it was a perk for the crew members to scrape up the fat dripping that had accumulated having come off meat when cooking, collect it and sell it ashore for spending money. Hence slush fund.

Present day slush funds still exist and are viewed with disdain as was the rather suspect 18th century version.

Tide over,

Something to tide one over, a small allowance or payment to carry one over to pay day. The original version was a seafaring expression that derives ultimately from ‘tide’ being synonymous with ‘time’. The literal meaning was ‘in the absence of wind to fill the sails, float with the tide’.

Time and Tide wait for no man.


Boxing the Compass,

To know and be able to recite the 32 points and Cardinal or quarter points of the magnetic compass from North, both clockwise and anticlockwise.

Vital knowledge for sailing fans.